Close to the end of a five-hour road trip from Baguio to Bontoc, the traveler gets a chance to view the winding waters of the Chico River in Sabangan, with rice fields close to the valley floor and verdant forests on the upper slopes of the mountains
Closer to Bontoc, the road winds closer to the valley floor, allowing the traveler to see the river up close.
The river is calm and clear at times, but during the rainy season may be muddied from soil and debris from upstream.
At the edge of the central village of Bontoc, The Heritage coffee shop gives the traveler a respite, with the quaint backdrop of rice terraces and the river.
The Americans blasted a road tunnel through the mountain, rarely used now as the paved road goes around it.
A landslide blocks the road, but is partially cleared to allow vehicles to pass.
Bontoc and the other communities in the province are agricultural. Here we see rice paddies and camote fields.
In the latter part of the last century, some Bontoc people planted non-traditional crops, like coconuts, seen here.
Depending on the time of the rice agricultural cycle, the traveler may see rice paddies green with growing plants, or golden with ripening grain, or freshly plowed for planting, like in this picture.
The rice paddies are plowed for planting, and the asymmetric shapes of the fields add to the beauty of the scenery.
Carabaos are used for plowing, if available. The paddy in front shows a field not yet plowed, and the paddy on the right has already been planted with rice seedlings.
With an “umbrella hat” to protect herself from the heat of the sun, this woman plants rice. Planting rice is a communal effort, an activity that maximizes the people’s mutual help systems.
More freshly plowed fields.
Stopping to pose for a picture, this woman is on her way to work on the fields.
The newly planted rice seedlings benefit from the water brought by the irrigation canal. Often coming from kilometers away far upstream, some of these canals have already been cemented.
Rice seeds are first sown in paddies like this, and then “harvested” to be replanted, like what these folk are doing.
In the Bontoc municipal center is Lanao village, nestled in rice fields along the Chico River
Another shot of Lanao, Bontoc. Beyond the farther houses is the river.
Foot bridges allow folks to get to the forest hunting grounds and fields on the other side of the river.
Further downstream, the river continues on to Kalinga
A bird’s eye view of central Bontoc
The Chico River flows past Bontoc, to Kalinga, through deep valleys and canyons, where white water rafting is popular during the rainy season when the water is stronger.
The road to Kalinga winds along the slopes of the mountains. the roads have recently been paved for the most part, deducting from the more rustic thrill of dusty dirt roads that were for a long time the way they were.
In early April every year since the past decade, Bontoc hosts the Lang-ay Festival, where the province’s indigenous people congregate to showcase their dances, songs, attire, and other cultural expressions.
These women proudly show their unique tapis, or wraparound skirts. On the ground are bundles of rice stalks on woven baskets, part of their props for the parade during the Lang-ay.
These men, with turbans and g-strings, play the gongs to provide music for the parade, as the ladies walk beside them.
These young folk showcase their indigenous attire, stating their uniqueness and yet their likeness with the other indigenous people of the province.
With boys playing the gongs, these girls dance along during the Lang-ay parade.
One attraction for visitors of Bontoc is its museum, where one may see different cultural artifacts and photographs.
The Bontoc museum has a traditional pigpen dug from the ground, where this pig is found.
Around September, Bontoc also holds another festival, the Am-among, where different villages of the municipality show us the variety and similarity of their indigenous communities.
Using a shield to shade himself from the sun, this young warrior poses with these ladies for a picture
Bright shirts are now part of regular garb, though prior to these ready-made creations, tops were rare clothing for the people.
Carrying woven farming tools and baskets filled with food, Am-among paraders try to encapsulate their culture.
Theater and symbolic representations are not uncommon during these festivals, as the community people portray their existence in a capsule.
Carrying plowing tools, these women embody the hardiness and industry of the Bontoc people.
********* some photos are by Patrick Mcdonough, who like me married into the Bontoc community.